By Neha Shukla
LUCKNOW: Lucknow has as high a probability of tiger crime as Delhi. Among the tiger-crime hotspots are now cities like Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Mysore, Bangalore, Delhi and Indore.
Rail connectivity has made poachers shift base to cities to facilitate illegal tiger trade. A report titled 'Tiger poaching and trafficking in India: estimating rates of occurrence and detection over four decades', published in scientific journal 'Biological Conservation' in September focused on "cumulative effect of tiger habitats, proximity to road and rail, and presence of tiger trade hub," said researcher Koustubh Sharma.
At least 17 districts ranked high on tiger-crime despite not being surrounded by tiger habitats. "These districts are also likely to be tiger trade hubs," he said. Apart from metros and upcoming cities, Balrampur, Darjeeling, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Indore, Hyderabad, Indore, Kolkata, Dehradun, Udhamsinghbagar, Kolhapur, Haridwar, Pilibhit, Kheri, Bahraich are active tiger-crime centres.
The report has analysed tiger-crime data between 1972 and 2012. Tiger deaths due to road accidents, natural disasters and conflict were excluded. Between 1997 and 1999, there were 86 tiger-crime prone districts in the country. Between 2009 and 2012, the number came down to 73 but, at the same time, metros became the centres of illegal tiger trade despite being far from tiger habitat.
Despite focused efforts, the report said "poaching continues to be the key threat to tigers in India". Large number of districts along Indo-Nepal border, like Pilibhit and Kheri in UP, are at a high risk of tiger-crime because the area is the "main international hub for trafficking of tiger parts into China".
Tiger poaching in India has always been a specialised job led by mostly family groups and individuals with traditional expertise. Poachers prefer to operate in specific tiger habitats, mainly because of their familiarity with these areas and trusted network individual poaching gangs have set up over several years.
Illegal trafficking of tiger parts has two components—poaching tigers and then selling, buying and smuggling their body parts in the illegal international market. "Poachers use rail routes over road highways that is why poaching is higher in districts with access to rail routes," said the report.
Some serious enforcement efforts were made between 1993 and 1996 due to seizure of 8 tiger skins, 43 leopard skins and 287 kg tiger bones on August 31, 1993. Post 1997, detection of tiger crime reduced because poachers and buyers started using new methods to avoid detection. By the end of the year 2000, the trade became organised but with minimum detection of crime between 2001 and 2003.
"Three tiger skins and 50 leopard skins 'precisely folded, finely tanned and signed on the back' were seized on December 18, 1999 from Ghazibad, UP, in the first-ever evidence of organised wildlife crime," said researcher from Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Tito Joseph.
"The paper follows the challenge that we were facing for a while where the increase in reports of poaching or illegal trafficking were not essentially synonymous to increase in wildlife crime. Conversely, fewer cases reported could also mean poor policing and not actual reduction in wildlife crime," said Sharma.